Congress President Rahul Gandhi (right) and Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (left) are seen together at an event. (Photo By Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto) (Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto)

A row that had broken out over which Indian political party is tougher on terrorists and Pakistan continues to rage on. As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party banks on the Indian Army’s surgical strikes to bolster its electoral campaign, the Congress party on Wednesday reacted with a list of anti-terror surgical strikes carried out while the former United Progressive Alliance was in power.

The opposition party asserted that it never tried to take political advantage from military – or diplomatic – operations. The Congress released the list at a press conference saying that India had conducted “six surgical strikes” across the border into Pakistan between 2008 and 2014.

This came after BJP leader Arun Jaitley jibed that the opposition party’s surgical strikes were “invisible and unknown.” Jaitley’s remarks were aimed at former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Singh said in an interview with the Hindustan Times that “multiple surgical strikes” were conducted during his tenure. “For us, military operations were meant for strategic deterrence and giving a befitting reply to anti-India forces [rather] than to be used for vote garnering exercises,” Singh added.

As Congress backed up the former prime minister with its list of surgical strikes, the party claimed that the first such strike took place on June 19, 2008, in Bhattal sector in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch. The second was conducted from August 30 to September 1, 2011, in Sharda sector across Neelam River Valley in Kel (Pakistan-administered Kashmir). The next one was conducted on January 6, 2013, at Sawan Patra checkpost in Kashmir, a contested area between the neighbors. Congress’s list added strikes on “fJuly 27 and July 28, 2013, in Nazapir Sector; August 6, 2013,dfd in Neelam Valley; and one on January 14, 2014.”

The opposition party also stated that two surgical strikes were carried out when the late Atal Vihari Vajpayee was the prime minister before Manmohan Singh.

Expanding the boasting contest to include feats of diplomacy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress was “afraid” of celebrating the “diplomatic victory” of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar being listed as a global terrorist and hence, they were making claims of surgical strikes.

In fact Congress welcomed the declaration of Azhar as a global terrorist on Wednesday. However, Congress spokesperson Rajeev Shukla said their government also cracked down upon terrorists and it got Lashkar-e-Taiba co-founder Hafiz Saeed declared a global terrorist but it did not use it to make gains in election campaigns. Shukla also pointed out that Azhar was freed under late BJP leader and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in 1999. Saeed was one of three men set free by India in exchange for the crew and passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked and flown to then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The BJP dismissed Congress’ surgical strike claim by calling it “farcical and fraudulent”. “We have the greatest of respect for our armed forces. Our forces were capable of carrying out surgical strikes across the LoC [Line of Control], inside Pakistan, but they were not allowed to do so when UPA was in power,” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao.

Since the cross-border anti-terrorism operation, dubbed a “surgical strike,” was carried out in September 2016 by the Indian Army, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been repeatedly accused by the opposition of politicizing the matter.

Even Lt Gen (retired) DS Hooda, who was the chief of the Northern Command of the Army in September 2016, said that it had been “politicized and overhyped.” The cross-border operation on terror launch pads took place after the Uri terror attack, in which 19 soldiers were killed.

National security has become a central theme in the BJP’s poll campaign as India is holding its seven-phased general elections.

Even in one of Modi’s significant rallies, which launched BJP’s poll campaign in the politically important state Uttar Pradesh, the prime minister said his government had shown the courage to conduct a surgical strike in all spheres — land, sky and space. The space reference was to the ASAT test, in which India shot down its own satellite in the lower Earth orbit.

But this is not the first time Congress has claimed that surgical strikes happened under UPA rule. Last year, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said that three surgical strikes took place in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir under Manmohan Singh’s government.

People’s Democratic Party leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti condemned Congress’s claims and their timing. She tweeted saying, “Sadly, national security has become a poll plank to earn votes. After the BJPs surgical strike brouhaha & rhetoric, it’s Congress’s turn to boast. Nothing else justifies the sudden revelations.”

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